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PREPARED STATEMENT OF M. G. "PAT" ROBERTSON
I would like to express my thanks to you, Senator Thurmond
and to all the members of this distinguished Committee, for the
opportunity to appear before you in support of Senate Joint Resolution 199
to amend the Constitution of the United States in order to restore the
freedom of our citizens to join in voluntary prayer in public schools
and in other public institutions.
The first amendment to the Constitution was drafted by a
Virginian, James Madison. He, and other framers of our Constitution
realized the oppression that had resulted in Europe and in the Colonies
when the secular state chose to support one religious sect to the
exclusion of others.
My ancestors arrived in Virginia from England during several decades beginning at Jamestown in 1619. Originally they were Anglicans. When some become Baptists in the eighteenth century they resisted paying
taxes to support the salaries of Anglican clergymen and the maintenance
of Anglican Church buildings. The Anglican church in Virginia was the established church and my Baptist ancestors were deprived by the state of certain civil liberties because they were religious dissenters.
My forebears along with James Madison, other Virginians, and
colonists from other states were determined that the Congress of the
United States would not have the power to establish a federal church, or to restrict the religious freedom of any of our citizens.
As their representatives in the Senate wrestled with the matter, one draft of the First Amendment used this language:
"Congress shall make no law establishing articles
of faith or mode of worship, or prohibiting the free
exercise of religion."
Later both houses of Congress settled on a simpler
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
To them the meaning was clear. The federal government could
not have the power to prefer one sect over another as was the case in
Europe, and the federal government could not interfere with anyone's
right to worship as he or she saw fit.
The same Congress which proposed the first amendment had a
chaplain, opened its proceedings each day with prayer, authorized
the printing of Bibles out of the public treasury, and affirmed a
reliance on "divine providence."
We often hear of the "constitutionally mandated separation
of church and state." Of course, as you know, that phrase appears
nowhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. It was, in fact,
a phrase used in a letter by Thomas Jefferson sent in 1802 to the
Danbury Baptist Association, which had aroused his ire by criticism
of one of his policies.
When Jefferson desired to clarify his position three years
later in his second inaugural address there was no mention of "separation
of church and state." Instead he used these words:
"In matters of religion I have considered that its free
exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of
the central government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion
to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it (i.e. the central
government) but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under
the direction and discipline of the church or state authorities."
We do find this phrase in the constitution of another
nation, however, "The state shall be separate from the church, and
the church from the school." Those words are not in the Constitution
of the United States, but that of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
an atheistic nation sworn to the destruction of the United States of
The founders of this nation, to paraphrase the words of
Supreme Court Justice Douglas in Zorach v Clauson, "were a religious people whose institutions presupposed the existence of a Supreme Being."
In fact, from the first settlement on these shores in 1607 to the founding of a nation in the late Eighteenth Century, until 1962,
there existed throughout our national and local life a profound belief
in God, in the efficacy of private and public prayer, and in a shared
morality based on the teachings of the old and New Testament.
was there to be separation from our public life of God, of prayer, of
Judeo-Christian moral values.
From 1962 until the present, a small minority has forced through the Federal Court system a tortured view of the Establishment of Religion Clause of the First Amendment which bears no resemblance
to the views of the founding fathers of this nation nor to the past
three hundred and seventy five years of our history and custom.
During the past twenty years, successive court decisions
on the establishment clause have so egregiously departed from clearly defined norms of constitutional interpretation that Senator Daniel Moynihan termed these decisions "an intellectual scandal."
By 1982, under the incessant hammering by groups such as
the American Civil Liberties Union, a group formed 62 years ago to
defend Bolsheviks, religious freedom is no longer considered a paramount
freedom but has become restricted and proscribed by successive court
We have only to consider a few examples to understand the
enormity of the problem:
(1) The University of Missouri provided at public expense accommodation for student groups advocating communism and homosexuality. The University denied similar accommodation to Christian students. The Federal District Court judge in the case agreed with the University and ruled that under the Constitution the freedom of religion was a restricted right. Fortunately, even the Supreme Court could not accept that reasoning and ordered the accommodation of the Christian student group. (2) In my home community I was shocked to find the state
Yet within two weeks the high court refused to overturn the
ruling in the Nederland, New York case which denied the right of high
school students to be accommodated for voluntary religious activities after school, even though all other volunteer student clubs were
accommodated by the school.
run community college system proposed religious guidelines which forbade
students to speak of their religion on campus and which forced students
to submit all religious materials for prior restraint and censorship
before they would be allowed to distribute such literature voluntarily
on their school campus.
(3) in Florida, and in many other states, Federal Courts
have ruled that observances of Christmas, Hanakkah, or Easter are
But worse than this, a federal court in a Florida case,
Chamberlin v Dade County Board of Public Instruction 377 US 402,
84 S.Ct. 272, has ruled that the showing of films depicting various
religious happenings in the history of our nation were unconstitutional. In short, in Florida the students could not view the landing at Jamestown because a cross was planted there; the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims
in Massachusetts because they thanked God; George Washington kneeling at prayer at Valley Forge; or the Virginia patriots praying at Bruton Parish Church. (See ruling from Florida Commissioner of Education, Oct. 25, 1977)
(4). Last Christmas, Pawtucket, Rhode Island was forced by
federal court order to remove a Christmas manger scene which had been
a time-honored holiday observance there.
(5) In Roanoke, Virginia the Gideons International, who place
free Bibles in the nation's hotel rooms, were prohibited by court order
from giving free Bibles to school children.
(6) And in the ultimate judicial absurdity the State of North Carolina was prohibited from printing on highway maps a simple non sectarian prayer dealing with safety for drivers on the state's
But with these rulings has come confusion. The Supreme Court opens its session with the phrase, "God save this honorable court." Yet that act would be unconstitutional if said by a school principal.
The Supreme Court has the Ten Commandments engraved on the
walls of its chambers, yet the Supreme Court has ruled that the placement
of the Ten Commandments on school walls is unconstitutional when it takes
place in Kentucky.
The Chief of Justice of the Supreme Court holds a Bible for
the swearing in of the President of the United States, yet it is
unconstitutional for school teachers to read from the Bible in class.
The President of the United States designates a holiday for
thanksgiving to God, yet no school child could thank God on that day
if school were in session.
The Congress and the President designate a day of prayer each
year, yet the schools cannot give notice of such a joint action of the
Legislative and Executive Branches of Government.
Now the courts have begun to reach out and challenge the
right of the two houses of Congress to hire chaplains and to open their
sessions with prayer.
When my father, A. Willis Robertson, was a member of this
distinguished body, he met with various colleagues every Wednesday morning in the Senate Dining Room to read the Bible and pray. This
to him was the highlight of his week.
The fellowship and prayer with
Senators from both sides of the aisle was a great strength to him and
to those Senators with whom he met.
I want to assure this committee, that if the recent Supreme
Court decisions are constitutionally sound, then the Senate prayer
breakfasts are unconstitutional. But if Senators have the privilege
of praying and reading the Bible on government property
then little school children should be given the same privilege.
Thomas Jefferson warned us, "you seem to consider the judges as
the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions
a very dangerous
doctrine indeed, and one that would place us under the despotism of an
President Abraham Lincoln told us, "If the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be